Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

September 4, 2017


Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Portraits,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:26 pm

Our own taste is always good, that of others is less so. There you have the art conundrum in a sentence. We know good taste when we see it, but struggle to find any way of sensibly defining or codifying the property.

So where does our taste come from? From nurture, education and experience is the simple answer. We absorb a lot of taste from out parent’s decor, then if we take an art course the prevailing trends and wisdoms get added on. Our friends follow fads and fashions, based on word of mouth and the media. We develop interests here and there in historical and practical matters. All these influences come to a head when we look at an object or image and decide where it falls relative to our own taste spectra.

There is in every historical era a taste or aesthetics consensus. Those who have positions of cultural power, academic, communicative, administrative or economic, include or exclude trends as they rise to prominence or decline into irrelevance. An example of this might be the moralistic genre painting of the Victorian period. In an era of concern as to the morals of society (or lack of them in the unwashed) it produced paintings and books that addressed these worries. We see them as in bad taste and overly sentimental now so it is hard to imagine them ever being seen as in good taste, but the fact is that they were.

Is our taste any better? Or will our aesthetic consensus be derided in turn by a new age? The answer perhaps is yes, but probably for the last time. The wholesale availability of imagery from cave painting to photograph means that any individual’s possible choices of aesthetic matter are so broad and inclusive as to make the term “good taste” so nebulous as to be irrelevant.

As an artist you are often on the receiving end of other people’s taste. They will have opinions positive or negative depending on their own received aesthetic. So I might be dismissed as “traditional” one moment and be admired for my free mark making the next. No offence, but I have learnt to take both with more than a pinch of salt. After all a culturally sophisticated Victorian might have said to me that I needed more narrative content and scorned my “want of finish” which was a favourite put down of the time.

So is that it, we cannot assemble any aesthetic consensus? I have no answer to that, now an artist’s work is viewable by billions of individuals at the click of a button we perhaps need a new definition. Perhaps a star rating such as Tripadvisor or Amazon. For my own aesthetic star rating I try my best to make my own choices unhampered as much as I can by considerations of historical style or genre. Is it well or skilfully done of its type? If it is of a genre of which I know nothing then I can just leave it undecided.

What I really try my best to avoid is the liking of a work because it chimes with what I do myself or dismissing it because it doesn’t. A lot of feed back from other artists consists essentially of a plea to “paint as I do or as I aspire to do”.  This one cannot but help suspecting is based on insecurity and a desire for reassurance about the relevance of their own work and perhaps cannot to be considered useful constructive feedback.

Some some of my own crimes against taste now…

portrait, oil painting

Done as a present for a friend Mary. A very risky painting as it was a triple family portrait and the recipient is also an artist. No pressure then. I was pretty pleased with the result, this sort of painting often hits a brick wall when one part will not come good and undermines the rest. 12in by 10in Oils.

Shaftesbury, oil painting, plein air, Dorset

This one of Shaftesbury caused me a lot of grief. I repeatedly got the mid ground too light and had to wipe off. Not helped by the cloud shadows zipping over the wide landscape. 12in by 10in Oils.

Broad Chalke, watercolour, Dorset, plein air

I have been rather neglecting the plein air watercolouring so as the weather was favourable I set out to explore the chalk uplands east of Shaftesbury. Great skies and the light is improving as the season gets later. 12in by 7in Watercolour.

Castle rings, Dorset, watercolour, watercolor, plein air

This is Castle Rings near Shaftesbury, actually painted prior to the previous painting. I had managed to forget my brushes so this was painted with a small workout brush I usually use to add high lights to pen drawings with. I actually took to emptying paint onto the paper directly from the palette and then spreading it about! later a painting friend joined me and I was able to swipe one of her brushes. 10in b y 7in watercolour.

Pilsden Pen, Dorset, watercolour, plein air

This is the view from Pilsden Pen. Or should I say the rapidly vanishing view. As soon as I started the cloud rolled in obscuring the wide view. You would never know it but the horizon is about halfway up the picture! 10in by 7in watercolour.

Pilsden Pen, Dorset, watercolour, plein air

Here I am at the top… I waited for the cloud to blow over but it didn’t. I eventually started this to pass the time. As is so often the case once you begin you find more and more interest in the subject. I painted all the dull green shadows first and then laid a wash over the whole lot to establish the atmosphere. The watercolour gods were with me and the risky process worked very well. I had to carry it down carefully in one hand as in the mist drying was just not happening. 10in by 7in Watercolour.

Abbotsbury, Dorset, plein air, watercolour, landscape

Another day out. This is near Abbotsbury. I boldly took on a whole 1/4 sheet. The washes were drying quicker than I wanted so a bit rushed. Watercolour

Kimmeridge, Dorset, sea, landscape, plein air, watercolour

Making the best of the good weather. This is another day out. This is Kimmeridge with the Clavell tower in the distance. A great viewpoint from the path that runs along the escarpment. I will be returning here as it has great possibilities. 1oin by 7in watercolour.

Kimmeridge, Dorset, plein air, painting , watercolour

This is looking West along the same path. The warmer tones are reappearing in the landscape as Autumn approaches which is very welcome. 10in by 6in Watercolour.

Osmington Mills, Dorset, sea, plein air, watercolour, painting

Last one of a lovely day. This is Osmington Mills. The family group out on the rocks were a subject I could not resist. They transform what would other wise be a pleasant but ho-hum scene. 10in by 6in Waterclour.


June 5, 2017

Innocent X by Velasquez

Filed under: Art History,Italy,Painting,Portraits,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:43 pm

I intend to do a series of posts on paintings that knocked my socks off and thereby influenced me. Some famous others less so. I start with a famous one…

A decade or so ago I had a job painting a ceiling in Rome… no not that one, the ceiling of the Hard Rock Cafe which I had to cover in flying rock stars reimagined as cherubs. Working in Italy was great fun, the builders after initially being a little suspicious called me “Maestro” and brought me lovely coffees and treats. So I spent several weeks lying on on my back up on a scaffold tower being wheeled about by my long suffering helper Paul. In Italy work starts early but finishes at 4pm which gave me ample free time to float about Rome painting and looking at all the wonders.

One of those visits was to the Palazzo Doria Pamphili. I am embarrassed now by my ignorance, but I had not heard of it. I had just visited the Pantheon which was bombed out by hoards of tourists and was wandering home when I saw the sign and the entrance. It had that grand palazzo thing where you ascend a stone staircase to the piano nobile. To my surprise I was one of only a few visitors so could wonder around in peace. The place is absolutely stuffed full of paintings and every square inch frescoed and tromped. There are a many wonderful pictures, but I was after several rooms astounded by how much really bad painting had been done over the centuries! On average the decorative painting was better than the stuff in frames.

So I wasn’t prepared when I entered a fairly small room and there it was. I had no idea that the picture was there so it hit me right between the eyes. To say the painting had presence was an understatement. I nearly said, “Whoops, excuse me!” And tiptoed out again.

The picture of course is Velesquez’s great painting of Innocent X.

Velasquez, portrait, Rome, painting

A few details, painted about 1650 and 141in by 119in. The Pope was apparently suspicious of painters in general and Velasquez in particular and reluctant to be painted. He got Velasquez to paint his barber first to check him out. I suspect he was mainly concerned how any picture might reflect on his perception by others. In the event the picture was kept private by the subject in his own lifetime. There are two other versions that are probably studies. We don’t know but presumably these were done from life. There is an amazing consistency between all three in the likeness. Here are the other two:

Velasquez, Innocent X, portrait

This one is just a head study and is in the Washington Met.

Velasquez, Pope, Innocent X, painting, portrait

This is a head and shoulders and is in Apsley House in London

Though the studies are wonderful they don’t have quite the impact of the Rome picture. This is perhaps because of Velasquez brilliant structuring of the larger picture. Side to side the figure only just fits, indeed the paper held by the Pontif which holds the artist’s signature is cropped by the frame. The gilt work frame of the chair is broken by the Innocent’s head which both places the head in 3d space and anchors it in two dimensions. The background is an indeterminate russet then the chair fabric is a tad redder and then finally the Pope’s vestments a brighter red still. This progression pushes the figure towards us. All three reds are much the same in general hue which in turn gives harmony and subtlety.

The white of the rest of the vestments is where I feel Velasquez has had to work hard, I suspect they got painted and repainted a fair few times. The brief crisp shadow of the red papal fanon on the white makes the pope’s upper torso appear the float. The clever shadow of the right hand and the arm of the chair fixes the casually posed hand in space. There is the merest hint of lace to suggest opulence but not excess.

The hands describe a man who is relaxed. We cannot somehow imagine them fidgeting. They rest imperturbably on the fore-square arms of the gilded but rather severely formed chair.

Velasquez, Innocent X, Pope, Portrait

So to the head. Innocent was a lawyer and had been a representative abroad to both France and Spain for previous pontiffs. Here is a face that has seen much and would be hard to surprise. Worldly, he had a mistress, but not prone to any excesses although occasionally cruel and capricious he was a politician through and through.  He was not I suspect much of an art fan. Although Bernini was closely associated with Innocent’s enemies the Barberini he was left in charge of the works in St Peters and did a fine bust of Innocent. So although reportedly paranoid and suspicious, a calculating, worldly and pragmatic man. Velasquez catches this by having the head held forward little, not tense but wary. The eyes consider us with, if we can believe the mouth, a wry edge of amusement.

There is tremendous control of the edges. The hat is sharp and cuts across the forehead except as it approaches the ear where it is softened by hair. To the right of the brow there is a darkening of the gilt of the chair to pull the head forward. The line of the cheek is softened and wonderfully subtle. The shape of the chin is hidden by the Pope’s wispy beard. The collar cuts the neck sharply tone wise but the drawing indicates it is softly turned. The ear is strongly lit and describes the very slight turn of the head towards us. Velasquez has arranged it so the the eyes are turned further still which gives animation to the  square on pose of the body.

The features in themselves are ordinary, the fleshy nose the wispy beard, Velasquez has made no attempt to flatter. There is no real record of the Pope’s reaction to the painting, though rumour has it he commented, “It is all too true.” In any case the picture was hung in his family home where it still is today.

Finally a detail of the Washington study.

Velasquez, InnocentX, portrait, detail

Many layers of refinement are visible but the whole remains fresh. He decides what should be clear and what obscure what marks of making should appear and which blended.

For the sake of interest here is Bernini’s bust of Innocent.

Bernini, Innocent X, Sculpture, marble

He is given a more youthful air, Bernini hopes to flatter I suspect. This bust also stayed in the Palazzo and was not for public consumption.

Another by Alessandro Algardi who was Innocent’s favoured artist:

Alessandro Algardi, bust, sculpture, Innocent X, bronze

This image was I suspect more how Innocent preferred to imagine himself, more in the mode of an apostle weighed down by his office.

Algardi also got to do the official sculpture:

Alessandro Algardi, statue, Innocent X

Now this one was definitely for public consumption!

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